Henry Giroux: Striking Teachers Fight for Public Education and the Public is With Them

Henry Giroux places the recent wave of teacher strikes in historical perspective. The teachers are fighting a battle on behalf of the public good against an assault by reactionary neoliberalism.

He writes:

“The power of collective resistance is being mounted in full force against a neoliberal logic that unabashedly insists that the rule of the market is more important than the needs of teachers, students, young people, the poor and those deemed disposable by those with power in our society. Teachers are tired of being relentless victims of a casino capitalism in which they and their students are treated with little respect, dignity and value. They have had enough of corrupt politicians, hedge fund managers and civically illiterate pundits seduced by the power of the corporate and political demagogues who are waging a war on critical teaching, critical pedagogy and the creativity and autonomy of classroom teachers.

“Since the 1980s, an extreme form of capitalism – or what in the current moment I want to call neoliberal fascism – has waged a war against public education and all vestiges of the common good and social contract. In addition, this is a war rooted in class and gender discrimination – one that deskills teachers, exploits their labor and bears down particularly hard on women, who make up a dominant segment of the teaching force. In doing so, it not only undermines schooling as a public good, but also weaponizes and weakens the formative cultures, values and social relations that enable schools to create the conditions for students to become critical and engaged citizens.

“Schools have been underfunded, increasingly privatized and turned into testing factories that deliver poor students of color to the violence of the school-to-prison pipeline. Moreover, they have also been restructured in order to weaken unions, subject teachers to horrendous working conditions and expose students to overcrowded classrooms. In some cases, the dire working environment and dilapidated conditions of schools and classrooms appear incomprehensible in the richest nation in the world…

“Moreover, as state and corporate violence engulfs the entire society, schools have been subject to forms of extreme violence that in the past existed exclusively outside of their doors. Under such circumstances, youth are increasingly viewed as suspects and are targeted both by a gun culture that places profits above student lives and by a neoliberal machinery of cruelty, misery and violence dedicated to widespread educational failure. Instead of imbuing students with a sense of ethical and social responsibility while preparing them for a life of social and economic mobility, public schools have been converted into high-tech security spheres whose defining principles are fear, uncertainty and anxiety. In this view, a corporate vision of the U.S. has reduced the culture of schooling to the culture of business and an armed camp, and in doing so, imposed a real and symbolic threat of violence on schools, teachers and students. As such, thinking has become the enemy of freedom, and profits have become more important than human lives…

“Rejecting the idea that education is a commodity to be bought and sold, teachers and students across the country are reclaiming education as a public good and a human right, a protective space that should be free of violence and open to critical teaching and learning. Not only is it a place to think, engage in critical dialogue, encourage human potential and contribute to the vibrancy of a democratic polity, it is also a place in which the social flourishes, in that students and teachers learn to think and act together.”

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